A platform across African Great Lakes for community testimonies on environmental challenges and solutions fostering accountable and participative natural resource management

A Fisherman Perspective

Summary

Lake Edward is situated within Virunga Park, in eastern DR-Congo. On its shores live 90.000 people in 12 fisheries villages. Annual fish production is 18.000 tons, tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and bagrus (Bagrus docmak) representing the two most important species in the landings. The fish contribute significantly to local diets, livelihoods, food security and overall poverty alleviation.

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As a result of its exceptional location within a national park, participatory monitoring systems and governance have allowed adequate management of the fish stocks. The economic value of the lake over the next 10 years is estimated at 240.000.000 US$.

  • National authorities are encouraged to promulgate a law which protects Edward Lake definitively from the threats which put in danger fish resources, particularly oil exploration.
  • Governance frameworks should be established that consolidate management of the lake fish resources.
  • Local and regional authorities are encouraged to invest in improved lake fish resource use, adding value to fish subproducts and improving markets through improved provision of ice, the creation of commercial platforms, and financial support.

Introduction

Lake Edward is shared by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda, is situated at an altitude of 912 meter above sea level. Together with lakes Kivu, Albert, George and Tanganyika it forms the western loop of the East African rift valley system (Snoeks et al., 1997).

In the last three decades, the great African lakes have been subjected to rising fishing pressure, and lake Edward is no exception. This threat may put into danger local food security, reason why much attention is being paid recently to the implementation of fisheries management strategies.

In comparison with other great lakes, lake Edward is exceptional for being inserted within two national parks: Virunga national park (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Queen Elisabeth national park (Uganda). This particular situation is supposed to benefit protection of aquatic biodiversity and participative cross-border management of lake resources.

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Approximately 10.000 families (90.000 people) living on the lake shore have fisheries-based livelihoods and their diet relies predominantly on fish from the lake, which constitutes more than 90% of the local protein source.

The main threats to Virunga park are poaching, deforestation, demographic pressure on the west coast of Edward lake and uncontrolled fishing in the same lake.

Oil exploration represents a recent threat to the Virunga park, and in particular to the fish fauna of Edward lake.

What is at stake?

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From a Biodiversity Perspective

Lake Edward contains a high number of native species, totaling 58. Twenty-nine of these species are small cichlids (genus Haplochromis), all possessing high conservation value. Four of these cichlid species figure as endangered species at a regional scale but are probably relatively well protected within Edward Lake.

Moreover, two of the species are extremely important in commercial fisheries: tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and bagrus (Bagrus docmak). Other important species are mormyds, Protopterus (lungfish), Clarias gariepinus (catfish) and Barbus (carp-like).

The latest estimates of the annual fisheries yield, based on detailed monitoring by ICCN, are approx.. 18.000 tons (18 000 000 kg). 60% is made up of Bagrus docmak, 25 % of tilapia.

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From a Human Perspective

The fish from Edward Lake sustain a complex value chain whose ramifications reach the northern Beni province and the Kivu watershed in the south (main urban centers Bukavu, Goma), where lake Edward fish is highly valued. Moreover, the 10.000 families, an estimated 5.000 families outside Virunga National park eat regularly fish brought in from the lake.

Fish selling is the most important income in the fisheries villages on the shore of Edward Lake and provides more than 80% of income. Local livelihoods depend almost entirely on lake fish !

Other food items are bought outside Virunga Park, mostly with money earned from fishing and fish selling.
The larger part of the people living on the lake shore confirm that they feel food-secure, thanks to the abundant fish resource in the lake.

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Figure 1 *

Around Edward lake several fisheries organizations work together with park authorities to manage the natural resources. Women are the main actors of commercialization along the fish value chain.

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Policy Implications

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Economic Value
The actual economic value of the fisheries resource is 24 million (24 000 000) US$/year. If more value would be added to the fish (for example through improved smoking, packing, etc.), the economic value could eventually rise to 36 million (36 000 000) US$. If the fish resource is managed in a sustainable way, the economic value over a 10-year period would be higher than 240 million (240 000 000) US$

Recommendations

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  • Fish production is the main economic motor in the Kivu area and sustain livelihoods in post-war conditions. As such, fishing is a stabilizing factor guaranteeing well-being and basic income for thousands of families;
  • Because of its enormous contribution to income and to food security the conservation of Edward lake should be prioritized;
  • Lake Edward can best be protected within Virunga national park boundaries, where a unique cooperation between park authorities and fishers guarantees sustainable management of fish resources;
  • National authorities are encouraged to update the (now obsolete) cooperation agreement between fisheries organizations and the national park authority.
  • National authorities are encouraged to promulgate a law which protects lake Edward definitively from the threats which put in danger fish resources.
  • Governance frameworks should be established that guarantee participatory monitoring and management of the lake fish resources.
  • Local and regional authorities are encouraged to invest in improved lake fish resource use, adding value to fish subproducts and improving markets through improved provision of ice, the creation of commercial platforms, and financial support.

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Edward Lake fish resources are essential for survival and securing livelihoods, and the services provided by fish, should not be put in danger through non-sustainable short-term initiatives aiming at exploitation of non-renewable natural resources

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Author : Paul A. Van Damme

PolicyBriefVirungaFisheries

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